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Five for Fighting Two Lights
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Five for Fighting

Two Lights

Light Rock

3.5 Stars
70’s folk rock with a modern twist.

John Ondrasik’s latest release has more of what you know him for – catchy piano-driven rock and pop songs with heartfelt and meaningful lyrics, but it also showcases a healthy dose of his other influences.

There’s plenty of great slide guitar, live orchestration, and fabulous production values that range from really capturing a vintage 70’s folk rock sonic character to modern day electronic percussion.

Though the lead single, “The Riddle,” may be reminiscent in style of “100 Years” from the outstanding album, The Battle for Everything, Five for Fighting’s new record branches out with tunes that are immediately classic (“Freedom Never Cries”), and we can’t get enough of the up-tempo “California Justice.” Another favorite that makes you sit up and ask what it was you just experienced – the Kinks-infused crazy-sounding rock song “Policeman’s Xmas Ball” (which had such personality in the scratch vocal track that the band kept it).

Throughout, Two Lights is filled with great storytelling and compelling songs that touch on themes to which everyone can relate (particularly Americans).

-SK

 
DramagodsLove
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Dramagods

Love

Hard Rock

3.5 Stars
Led Zeppelin + Extreme = Dramagods?

The public at large hasn’t taken much notice of Nuno Bettencourt’s musical efforts since his days as the guitar superhero from Extreme, but Dramagods should definitely make a wide range of rock music fans take notice. It is certainly his best band effort in recent years, and the obvious musical interplay between all players comes through strongly.

Sporting a sound and style a decade apart from Nuno’s former band of note, Dramagods music features a very cool 70’s Zeppelin-esque vibe mixed with Extreme-era vocal harmonies and some cool synth work thrown into the mix. Nuno’s vintage guitar tone (very different from his tone in the Extreme days) is more refined and slow-groove oriented, drummer Kevin Figueriedo lays down some outstanding Bonham-tinged beats, keyboardist Steve Ferlazzo gets to take center stage with great lead lines and Wurlitzer riffs in at least half of the tracks, and grooves are nailed down by bassist Joe Pessia. It’s not solo-infused work like Nuno’s 80’s effort, so don’t look for an Extreme-ish shredfest, but rather well-crafted melodic songs with classic riffs, grooves, and vocal harmonies, played by a band full of obviously talented musicians.

Although a CD is not yet available for direct purchase in the US, you can download the album from the iTunes music store, and watch a few videos from the band on their MySpace.com page including the outstanding lead track, “Megaton.”

http://myspace.com/dramagods

-SK

 
Jen Chapin Ready
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Jen Chapin

Ready

Jazz/Folk/Pop

3 Stars
Timeless vocal jazz with a folk-rock heritage.

You can’t help but compare and contrast Jen’s music with that of her father’s, the late folk singer Harry Chapin. To focus on her lineage would be a mistake though, as she’s a formidable artistic talent before you make any reference to her family. The single shared trait with her father is a penchant for storytelling through memorable lyrics, a gift that was definitely passed down a generation. But that’s where the similarities end.

While dad was a folk singer, singer/guitarist Jen and her husband, upright bassist Stephan Crump, have taken her songs and stories and crafted them into beautiful and intimate jazz numbers (with drummer Dan Rieser and a host of other musicians). Jen has a vocal style that perhaps borrows more from Ani DiFranco or Natalie Merchant rather than from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday.

High points for us included the tracks “Strip it Bare” – groovy and edgy, the mournful “To The New,” and the touching “Let It Show.” At times Jen rides a fine line between jazz and folk rock. We’ll be very curious to hear what direction her music flows in the future, but for now, we’ll kick back and relax to Ready’s soothing sound.

-SK

 
KeaneUnder The Iron Sea
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Keane

Under The Iron Sea

Alternative Pop Rock.

3.5 Stars

Melodic keyboard-heavy modern rock surprisingly devoid of guitar.

Kudos to Keane for crafting a catchy modern rock album that is built around synths and piano instead of guitar. Thanks to some awesome sounding (and catchy) riffs played by keyboardist Tim Rice-Oxley, we didn’t even notice at first or second listen the absence of electric guitar on the record! That could also be because we were really drawn into hearing the overall songs, not the individual musicians.

Vocally, the songs are heartfelt and emotional in their lyrical content. The vocal influence of Tom Yorke is apparent, and if Radiohead were to release a keyboard-heavy pop record with vocal harmonies, it might sound a lot like this one.

With real drums and bass, and piano layered with lush keyboards, the music comes across more like melodic alternative rock than 80’s synth pop. For fans of melodic music and cool keyboard sounds, this isn’t a record to be missed, though we would love to hear what would happen if a guitar player were added back into their songwriting mix.

-SK

 
Angels & Airwaves We Don't Need To Whisper
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Angels & Airwaves

We Don't Need To Whisper

Progressive Pop

3.5 Stars
Fresh sounding melodic mood rock.

It’s hard to imagine that singer/guitar player Tom DeLonge was the front man for Blink-182 after listening to We Don’t Need To Whisper. While the former band didn’t excite us, Tom’s new direction yielded a great-sounding band and great-sounding album.

Filled with incredibly lush synthesizers and stereo-delayed guitars that nail the Edge’s classic U2 sound (too much so, at times), and songs that are as much adventure stories as they are about relationships, the album plays like a movie soundtrack mixed with rock opera.

The songs are progressive by Tom’s standards – lengthy non-punk melodic tracks that don’t fall easily into any radio formats. Whisper is filled with a heavy dose of 80’s new wave synth, spacey guitars, and a slight dose of punk pop (particularly in the drums area) that gives it a heavier rock edge than you’d hear coming from many of the bands whose influences can be heard throughout.

Despite the blatant U2 guitar emulation on a few of the tracks, it is still one of the few new CDs we’ve heard from a rock band that is consistently strong from start to finish. Angels & Airwaves deliver a cool listening experience from the start of opener “Valkrie Missle” to the final track, “Start the Machine,” and we’re glad that Tom already made a ton of money in his former band so that we can look forward to more Angels & Airwaves music even if the radio never gets excited about them.

-SK

 
 
YesGreatest Video Hits
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Yes

Greatest Video Hits

Progressive Rock

2 Stars
Great collection ruined by lousy transfer.

After the fantastic 9012 Live DVD release a few months ago, this video collection proved to be a letdown. It features a good collection of songs spanning the first twenty years or so of their career that includes such gems as “Tempus Fugit” from Drama (the only album on which Jon Anderson was absent, his role filled by producer Trevor Horn) as well as most of the Rabin-era videos, but ends with songs from Big Generator.

This DVD is essentially a copy of the older laserdisc title, and judging from the video quality, we’re led to believe that they didn’t do much more than a direct video transfer – the picture quality is extremely poor on many of the videos. In fact, the award-winning video for “Leave It” is so blurry that you can’t make out any facial details of the band members!

The video commentary that introduces each video is great, but you have to play the DVD from start to finish (or rewind a lot) since the commentary is placed at the end of each preceding song (skipping around the DVD brings you right to the start of each song).

The audio quality was fine, but you would think that the transfer of Yes material would be handled by people who were personally excited about optimizing the video out of love and respect for this band. We would have liked to see videos for later releases, too. Is it possible that Yes never shot a video for songs on Talk, Union, or other later releases?

-SK

 
 
   
             
             
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